Siena College Plays “The Pajama Game” in a New Way, November 14 – 23
Siena Creative Arts and Stage III are delighted to present the classic 1954 George Abbott, Adler & Ross musical in Beaudoin Theatre, Foy Hall for 7 performances from 11/14 through 11/23. It was featured prominently in the Emmy nominated FX series “Fosse/Verdon” and was mentioned frequently this summer as the first Broadway success by producer Hal Prince when he passed away in July. It won the 1955 Best Musical Tony Award and has been revived twice on Broadway, winning Best Revival Tony Award in 2006 and is frequently produced in the area, memorably with the students of Park Playhouse in 2015. The musical recently showed up on a list circulated on social media of the 15 most underrated musicals. Maybe theatrenerds.com meant something other than underrated.
The story from a 1953 book by Richard Bissell called “7 ½ Cents” concerns the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory and its new superintendent Sid Sorkin (Connor Rock) and his stormy relationship with Babe Williams (Nora Collins), leader of the union grievance committee. When the workers strike for a 7 ½ cent wage increase it sets off a conflict between not only management and labor but a battle of the sexes as well. Even with such favorites as “Steam Heat,” “Hey There,” “There Once Was a Man” and “Hernando’s Hideaway” one can imagine that changing attitudes between the sexes and especially in a workplace environment would present a challenge in producing this Broadway standard.
According to director Sharon Paluch in the press release: “Through performance, we may interrogate the cultural narratives of both yesterday and today. In staging ‘The Pajama Game,’ the students of Siena College and I interrogate the production of gender in the workplace, examining the how and why certain practices are permitted, normalized and even celebrated. In combining the critical analysis of academic inquiry with the dynamic construct of theater, we hope to question labor practices and women at work in the 50s and today.”
I sat down with three of the students, Will Curley who is playing Hines, Fiona Hoye who is playing Brenda and Nora Collins who is playing Babe to see how the work was progressing in rehearsals.
How are you addressing the gender constructs in the libretto and the differing sensibilities between the 50s and now?
Fiona Hoye: I’m looking forward to working the kind of problematic bits because this show was written in the 50s and we don’t think the same way we did in the 50s. In particular, there’s one super throw-away scene in the show, it is literally three lines. There’s this one character, Prez who’s like a womanizer and says to my character at the picnic ”Hey, you want to get some beers?” and my character says “Oh, yeah sure!” and then three seconds later, my character runs back onstage and basically the implication is that he tried to sexually assault me and it’s basically a joke. The way we’re trying to work it with Sharon is that it is clearly not ok. Now, he comes back onstage with a black eye.
Nora Collins: That happens in a lot of my scenes too. Just reading it on the page you would interpret it that Sid has a lot of control but we’re switching the dynamic so my character has more of the agency, taking control of the relationship a little bit and saying “Hey, I’m interested in this too. You don’t have all the power.”
Fiona Hoye: It doesn’t feel dated. It’s obviously the ‘50s but it still feels relevant and important. The issues we’re discussing are still around-the union, fighting for better wages but more than that there’s relationships and interpersonal connectivity and community. We’re going to be showing that to an audience and my grandmother and my sister will definitely identify and understand.
What does a production of “The Pajama Game” have to offer the Capital Region theater scene?
Will Curley: I think that there’s a youthful, playful energy you can only find in a college, especially in a college whose theater department is as close-knit as ours and as understanding and as progressive as ours. You’re going to find a lot of new interpretive ways for a show to be done, especially with a show like this. The cast is really gelled together, everyone is playing off of each other really well and it’s on a very large scale because this is a musical and you can see the incredible connective bond we have with one another.
Nora Collins: People love “The Pajama Game,” the older generation really loves “The Pajama Game. I think we have moments where people will say “Oh, I remember that from the movie” but we also have new modern twists.
Will Curley: We offer a nostalgic aspect but we also offer a fresh take for the younger audience to say “Oh, ok, I can relate to this.”
What do you like most about “The Pajama Game?”
Will Curley: I like there’s a comedy aspect to it and there are great musical numbers and everyone is perfectly cast. I love seeing how our own talents are incorporating their material into our own.
Nora Collins: It suits our group really, really well. It’s a big ensemble piece and it gives our group a great chance to play. Everyone’s contributing. There are lead characters but the ensemble has a lot of chances to shine. There isn’t just one focal point in the show which I think is really cool because a lot of people have the opportunity to showcase their talents.
The Pajama Game
Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Directed by Sharon Paluch, Music Direction by Dr. Timothy Reno and choreography by Marcus Rogers
Beaudoin Theatre, Foy Hall, Siena College 515 Loudon Road, Loudonville, NY 12211
November 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 at 8PM, November 17 at 2 PM
Pajama Night: On Saturday the 16th, patrons who wear pajamas to the show will receive discounted tickets, at $2 for students, $8 for Siena community, and $10 for the general public.
We will be collecting donations of new, unworn pajamas in the lobby to donate to St. Catherine’s Child Care Center throughout the run of the show.